Natural communities are groups of plant and animal species that typically occur in association with each other in certain landscapes or physical environments. Factors such as associated vegetation, soil, substrate, hydrology, topography, climate, and fire history help define a particular community and make it unique.
Classifying and Inventorying Louisiana’s Natural Communities
Classifying and inventorying natural communities is essential for completely understanding the natural resources of a region. It provides a framework for prioritizing which areas to protect and determining research needs. It’s important to protect natural communities to conserve their ecological functions and safeguard the species that live within those communities.
To develop a classification system for Louisiana, LDWF Wildlife Diversity Program staff first gathered natural community data from secondary sources such as existing inventories, scientific literature, and consultation with experts in the field. Staff defined classes based on distinct physical and biological factors that occur repeatedly in different areas and then refined the resulting classification using data collected from field surveys conducted by program staff throughout Louisiana since 1984. According to the current natural community classification, Louisiana has 66 community types within six ecoregions. Some community types are widespread across the state while others are localized or restricted.
Using this classification system, staff inventory exemplary occurrences of each natural community type. Exemplary occurrences include all rare community types such as coastal prairies and the highest quality examples of more common community types such as bottomland hardwood forests. Exemplary communities have high species diversity, multiple age classes among the dominant tree species, presence of natural regeneration, standing dead snags and fallen woody debris in various stages of decomposition, an intact and fully functioning soil component, and little evidence of human disturbance. Staff also maintain fact sheets on many of these natural communities.
We also encourage forest landowners and managers who wish to maintain and enhance the natural communities and associated species in their care to follow recommendations outlined in the Guidelines for Practicing Forest Environmental Enhancement in Louisiana.
Protecting Louisiana’s Natural Communities
Although much of Louisiana is still covered in native vegetation, undisturbed examples of natural communities are exceedingly rare. Essentially no habitat untouched by humans exists in our state. The primary threat to Louisiana’s natural communities is habitat loss and alteration driven by urban expansion; residential and commercial development; land disturbance operations; introduction of exotic species; lack of proper habitat management; coastal erosion, subsidence, and sea level rise; climate change; and many other natural and manmade factors.
Staff prioritize Louisiana’s natural communities through a ranking system and formulate strategies for protecting, conserving, and restoring each community type. This process has been beneficial in identifying areas in Louisiana that warrant special focus. For example, the State of Louisiana, conservation organizations, and concerned private landowners have collaborated to conserve high quality systems of natural communities such as LDWF’s Lake Ramsay Savannah and Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Areas and The Nature Conservancy of Louisiana’s Copenhagen Hills Preserve.